Platinum Hit: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

This last summer has been a hot one, especially in Kansas. I know it has been hotter than normal in lots of places this season, but Kansas was basically the center of the frying pan. It was as if all the heat was actually coming up from our soil and dissipating out to surrounding states and continents. Long time Kansas residents like me should be used to this sort of heat and humidity, but when it’s this bad, it’s not really something one can ever grow to love or even shrug off. The heat here has truly been debilitating, and it has made for a lot of inside summer activity, which usually has something to do with drinking a lot and watching bad TV or movies.

Back in June, I started seeing previews on Bravo for a new reality competition series called Platinum Hit, in which a number of aspiring songwriters are brought together to compete for a record deal and a bunch of other music-related prizes. When I saw it was to be hosted by Jewel and co-hosted by former American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi, I sensed that this show would make for some good old-fashioned, horrible, campy summer drinking fun. I was right, but I didn’t realize how right – from the very first line spoken in the show (“I’m a musical genius, for sure”), I knew this was going to be a total shit show.

Basically, the whole show is set up exactly like Project Runway – challenges are presented to the competitors and they must create something based on that challenge, whoever creates the “best” thing wins for that week, and whoever creates the “worst” thing is sent home. In the case of Platinum Hit, the “thing” is a song, obviously – in each episode, everyone gets 30 minutes to write a catchy chorus, a few of those are picked as winners, then everyone gets into groups to turn the winning choruses into full songs. We’ve all seen shows like this a thousand times. The difference with Platinum Hit is that it involves the creation of music which, especially in today’s industry climate, no one really cares about. That was made all the more clear after the show was about halfway through the series, when it became apparent that no one was watching it – no one was blogging, posting, or hardly even commenting on Bravo’s page. Despite boasting Jewel’s massive cleavage (it’s pretty obvious she’s had work done, and yes, I have compared AND contrasted) at every possible turn, as well as maybe the most deluded egos to be found in the current music AND television industries, Platinum Hit was virtually ignored by the viewing public – and they really missed out.

Originally airing on Monday, the show was moved to Friday the week of Monday, July 4th. At first, we all thought it was just because of the holiday, and normal airing times would resume the following week. When it kept airing on Fridays every week after that, those of us who had been watching this show obsessively knew it was done for good. There will most likely be only one season of Platinum Hit ever in history, and hopefully they release it on DVD, because it boasted some brilliant moments – not brilliant in a conventional sense, but terribly brilliant, or brilliantly terrible.

In the first episode, we meet a character named Nevin, a piano-based songwriter who names influences such as Elton John and Billy Joel. In his self-description he states, “I sing for the widow, the hungry, and those who don’t have a voice. I am a leader of men.” Unfortunately, he ends up being the first contestant to be sent home (after ripping off “Candle in the Wind” almost verbatim in one of the challenges). I say “unfortunately” because this guy could have made for some great TV. Almost everything he said was like a songwriter’s worst nightmare, like a mature Justin Bieber as seen through the eyes of Todd Rundgren. After I realized this, I understood why me and a handful of friends were maybe the only people in the country watching this show – it was like a songwriter’s demolition derby, and only other songwriters or wannabe songwriters, or anyone who kind of understands what happens in that world, would get a kick out of it.

We meet Regina Spektor wannabe Jess, who says, “I didn’t have many friends in high school, but it never bothered me, because I feel my music gives my life purpose.” One of her “better” songs was written during the “road challenge”, in which the songwriters have to write a “road song”. To inspire greatness from the songwriters, the show sends them on a “road trip” which consists of each team riding in a van for a few hours while writing a song, sleeping in a hotel for the night, and coming back the next day – wow, what a “road trip”! (I guess they can say they’ve all been on tour now, eh?) And of course, we meet Nick, who (aside from being responsible for the previously mentioned opening line) aspires to be “The next Michael Jackson” – as if there could EVER be a NEXT Michael Jackson. Seriously, MJ was a product of a completely different musical climate, a climate in which people paid for and valued their music as something worthy of their time and money. We may continue to have fleeting celebrities in the music world, but it’s more than likely we will NEVER have another of MJ’s caliber. He may have been the last of a breed.

Sadly, that’s what these people – not just the contestants, but EVERYONE involved in the making of this show – do not understand. MJ is practically a metaphor for the old music industry, as it’s dead and gone. The new music industry is a whole different set of games. That word “games” should be taken literally – the gaming industry is starting to envelop not only the film industry, but music as well. It’s my theory that because of skyrocketing video game sales and their growing relevance in today’s world, people are showing more interest in “video game music”, or music that better serves as something in the background rather than the forefront. Music like this usually stresses importance on sounds and atmospheric quality, while the music created by the contestants on Platinum Hit focuses on lyrics, melody and structure. It’s more or less pop music, albeit created within varying genre templates. And, of course, it’s all horrible – occasionally in the best kind of way.

It may seem sad to some – probably to many – that I spent a good portion of my summer watching this swill, and it probably seems even sadder that I’m currently writing a 1500+ word article about it. Honestly, though, I think this show deserves some credit, and it got absolutely none. Platinum Hit attempted to showcase and champion the songwriting process to the world, in hope to build mass appreciation for the work that goes into the music people listen to and most likely take for granted every day. It was a noble venture, but I don’t think it could ever actually work. First of all, to make it work, the songs have to have more than mass appeal – they need to be really good, and these songs weren’t. Granted, many of them were insanely hilarious, but I don’t think that was the intended effect – plus, most people don’t have the sense of humor necessary to process humor this irreverent. Secondly, about 96% of the world’s population is used to taking music for granted, and that will probably never change. Most people who listen to music don’t really “listen to music”, and couldn’t give two shits about the process in which a song is created.

None of the songs created on the show are genuinely good, but there are many that are memorable, the kind that get stuck in your head throughout the day and you have no idea why. Brain’s “My Ridiculous” was an early hit; Johnny’s white reggae rave-up “Betting My Life on You” seems like a Jack Johnson parody; Sonyae’s first win, the a capella LA anthem “Love it or Hate It”, was an excellent precursor to just how bad this show could be; and of course Nick’s barrage of alt-pop tunes like “My City”, “Boom Boom”, and “My Mistake”, all use the same chord progression. Looking back on it, my favorite songs from the show have to go to Sonyae or Scotty – Sonyae started rough, but soon proved to be conceptually ahead of everyone; Scotty had an undeniable knack for melody and had some lyrical ideas that stuck, for some reason. Like his dance anthem “Paint This Club with Amazing” – every bone in my body tells me I should hate it and it should be horrible, but once I start talking about it, it’s in my head for days. Also, Scotty somehow won a challenge with a song called “DJ Have My Babies”, which is not only a testament to the horrible judging on the show, but the lack of real quality music being written among the contestants.

Of course, the best moment on the show was the songwriting session between Johnny and Nick. It’s pretty apparent that Johnny was trying to execute some sort of strategy to get Nick kicked off the show, trying to shut him out of the songwriting process and all. But Nick – even though he was, as he admitted himself, the show’s in-house asshole – was always consistent about working well with others, and Johnny couldn’t execute his strategy without making it look like he was actually trying to get Nick eliminated. Thus, Johnny was eliminated, and I believe rightly so. I did some research after watching this episode and came to find out that most of the contestants that made it this far on Platinum Hit had been on other reality TV shows in the past – for instance, Jess had been on American Idol, and there were others, too. Obviously, as these folks know all too well, the strategy is what gets you through to the end. A more subtle example on Platinum Hit would be when Jackie and Scotty paired up for Jackie’s “Say it Back”, and Scotty suggested they write it in the style of a country song. He then took responsibility when elimination time came around, but Jackie was sent home instead. Well played, sir.

Though I’m almost positive it won’t, I genuinely hope this show returns next summer. Maybe I actually like these songs. Maybe I secretly want to be on the show. I don’t think that’s the case, though – I think I just enjoy watching people make themselves look like total fools in a template that I myself, a songwriter, can relate with. I don’t call myself a songwriter in a sense of being a great, or even good, songwriter – I’m not here to make that claim. But I can say I have attempted songwriting a couple hundred times over the years, and a few of those times, I have actually completed some. Whether I’m good at it or not, doing it at all puts me in a position to relate with this show all too closely. I wouldn’t be surprised if designers felt the same way about Project Runway.

Also…just in case anyone is interested…all songs written on the show can be purchased on iTunes. YAY!

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5 Responses to “Platinum Hit: How I Spent My Summer Vacation”

  1. blackswansongs Says:

    Great blog post!

    Thank you for enduring this show for the rest of us! I’m glad I didn’t watch it after reading your post (although I must admit you made it seem so bad that it’s good).

    Keep up the great writing (and songwriting)!

    • recordgeekheaven Says:

      You are welcome! I really had a great time with it – I kind of love awful stuff like this, and the fact that it involved one of my favorite things to do in life made it all the more palatable fore me.

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